Thus said the LORD, Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein…
I. EXCELLENT GENERAL ADVICE. "Stand, and see, and ask." I take these words to be a call to thought and consideration. Now, to set men thinking is one great object which every teacher of religion should always keep before him. Serious thought, in short, is one of the first steps towards heaven. There are but few, I suspect, who deliberately and calmly choose evil, refuse good, turn their back on God, and resolve to serve sin as sin. The most part are what they are because they began their present course without thought. They would not take the trouble to look forward and consider the consequences of their conduct. By thoughtless actions they created habits which have become second nature to them. They have got into a groove now, and nothing but a special miracle of grace will stop them. There are none, we must all be aware, who bring themselves into so much trouble by want of thinking as the young. Too often they choose in haste a wrong profession or business, and find after two or three years, that they have made an irretrievable mistake, and, if I may borrow a railway phrase, have got on the wrong line of rails. But the young are not the only persons who need the exhortation of the text in this day. It is preeminently advice for the times. Hurry is the characteristic of the age in which we live. On every side you see the many driving furiously, like Jehu, after business or politics. They seem unable to find time for calm, quiet, serious reflection about their souls and a world to come. Men and brethren, consider your ways. Beware of the infection of the times.
II. A PARTICULAR DIRECTION. "Ask for the old paths." We want a return to the old paths of our reformers. I grant they were rough workmen, and made some mistakes. They worked under immense difficulties, and deserve tender judgment and fair consideration. But they revived out of the dust grand foundation truths which had been long buried and forgotten. By embalming those truths in our Articles and Liturgy, by incessantly pressing them on the attention of our forefathers, they changed the whole character of this nation, and raised a standard of true doctrine and practice, which, after three centuries, is a power in the land, and has an insensible influence on English character to this very day. Can we mend these old paths? Novelty is the idol of the day. But I have yet to learn that all new views of religion are necessarily better than the old. It is not so in the work of men's hands. I doubt if this nineteenth century could produce an architect who could design better buildings than the Parthenon or Coliseum, or a mason who could rear fabrics which will last so long. It certainly is not so in the work of men's minds. Thucydides is not superseded by Macaulay, nor Homer by Milton. Why, then, are we to suppose that old theology is necessarily inferior to new? I ask boldly, What extensive good has ever been done in the world, except by the theology of the "old paths"? and I confidently challenge a reply. There never has been any spread of the Gospel, any conversion of nations or countries, any successful evangelistic work, excepting by the old-fashioned distinct doctrines of the early Christians and the reformers.
III. A PRECIOUS PROMISE. "Ye shall find rest to your souls." Let it never be forgotten that rest of conscience is the secret want of a vast portion of mankind. The labouring and heavy laden are everywhere: they are a multitude that man can scarcely number; they are to be found in every climate and in every country under the sun. Everywhere you will find trouble, care, sorrow: anxiety, murmuring, discontent, and unrest. Did God create man at the beginning to be unhappy? Most certainly not. Are human governments to blame because men are not happy? At most to a very slight extent. The fault lies far too deep to be reached by human laws. Sin and departure from God are the true reasons why men are everywhere restless, labouring, and heavy laden. Sin is the universal disease which infects the whole earth. The rest that Christ gives in the "old paths" is an inward thing. It is rest of heart, rest of conscience, rest of mind, rest of affection, rest of will.
(Bishop J. C. Ryle.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.